If you are seriously pursuing disciplines to conform yourself to Christ-likeness, you need to heed his counsel about how to do just that. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us concerning the proper way to practice spiritual disciplines.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:1 (ESV)
Personal devotion is private devotion, not something to be carelessly paraded about before others. While it is not, strictly speaking, tacenda—something that must not be spoken of—we need to exercise great care, especially in our “tweet first, think later” culture. In this way, it is appropriate to think of our relationship to God in terms of an intimate love affair and it would not endear us to our lover to “kiss and tell,” so to speak.
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:2-4 (ESV)
This is not easy. Fueled by a charitable act, our pride wells up within us and we want to tell someone, even if it is not because we gave to the poor, but simply because we did something good. Pride, we must always remember, separates us from God.¹
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Matthew 6:5-6 (ESV)
This does not mean we can never pray in front of others, but we must make sure those occasions are not the only time we pray. If you only compliment your spouse when you are with others, are you really complimenting them or are you trying to make yourself look good in front of others for complimenting them? The one who praises his spouse in private can also do so as occasion calls for it publicly without hypocrisy.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)
Self-imposed suffering can have benefit in training ourselves to endure before God, but it is no badge of honor. Instead, it is an admission that we are not as strong in the faith as we ought to be. Spiritual disciplines are the gym of training for our Lord and no one likes those who are always talking about their workouts.
Secrecy is vital to our enterprise. Otherwise, instead of cultivating Christ-likeness, we can fall prey to crafting a pious persona for ourselves. The Pharisees were repeatedly condemned by Jesus for such practices. We perform acts of devotion not to seem holy, but to be made holy.
¹ James 4:6, Ecclesiastes 7:8, Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 19:23, and numerous other places.